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Why the Murder of Lisa Au Remains one of Hawaii’s Biggest Mysteries

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Why the Murder of Lisa Au Remains one of Hawaii’s Biggest Mysteries

Hawaii reminds most people of sunny beaches and all-inclusive resorts. A place they go to get away from their worries. However, Lisa Au’s gruesome murder remains shrouded with doubt, and puts a damper on the tourist paradise that we know Hawaii to be.

The murder case shook the Hawaii community at its core. Those old enough to remember will never forget. The case brought to light the unpleasant criminal side of the community that everyone refused to believe existed, until it was right in front of them demanding to be noticed.

Lisa was a nineteen-year-old hairdresser who lived in Kailua, Oahu during the time of her disappearance.

On January 20, 1982, Lisa got ready to leave the salon where she worked, debating whether she should brave the rain that was pouring down. After running to her car, she drove down to her boyfriend’s sister’s house where they had dinner together. Her boyfriend Doug Holmes then bid her goodbye at around midnight and she headed towards Kailua.

This later became the last known time she was seen alive.

The Lisa Au Murder Fallout

When Lisa did not come home the following day, her family called Doug at his dorm an the University of Hawaii hoping for news but received none. He simply informed them that he had not seen her since the previous night.

In an interview with a news station, later on, Doug was quoted saying,

“We left dinner at about 12:45, and we went downstairs, and we had both driven our own cars, and we said goodnight, and that was the last I saw her.”

At this point, people started to panic. Doug searched for Au’s car, a 1976 Toyota, for hours before finally finding it on a highway near Kapaa Quarry Road with no Lisa inside. After this, the authorities were notified. Things started to take a dark turn quickly.

A lot of things didn’t add up, and pessimism was in the air. The officer that arrived at the scene noticed that the windows were rolled down a couple of inches and the car was absolutely drenched, but oddly enough Lisa’s purse was as dry as a bone sitting on one of the car seats.

It was as if the purse had been put down on the seat after the rains were over. The only thing missing was her driver’s license and registration.

This led to one of the biggest known missing person searches Hawaii has ever seen. For 10 whole days, tens of thousands of volunteers looked for any sign of Lisa, but to no avail. Her parents hoped for the best but feared the worst.

During an interview in 1982, her mother was quoted saying,

“We have stayed near home, in case she happens to be able to call. Near the phone.”

From missing person to homicide

It was only on January 31, 1982, that Au’s naked, decomposing body was found near Tantalus Drive.

The case quickly became a homicide and theories started to fly. The most worrisome of all was that a police officer could be behind it all. The theory stemmed from people stating that they had seen a car with blue grilled light following hers.

This theory quickly became public and the community was in a frenzy. Was a police officer using his badge to get to young girls? Were the community’s saviors the people they needed to be scared of?

The theory stirred up enough conversation to even change police policies.  Off-duty officers could no longer stop vehicles and the use of flashing lights under car grills was also stopped.

With a case this open and with so little evidence, there was room for theories galore. The idea that a police officer could be behind it all garnered a lot of attention. There were multiple people who tried to get a specific officer behind bars but there was just never enough evidence.

Another theory was that Holmes himself was behind it all since an officer had reported seeing scratches on his face on the day that the car was found. As often happens in tough situations, people started to turn against each other and everyone was a suspect.

The police officer was just a quick way to close the case and call it a day while Holmes was simply a fair guess.

Overlooked clues

When Au’s body was found, Bert Corniel from the Honolulu Police Department got involved and has been ever since. It was one of the few cases that continues to haunt him. Thirty years after it happened, he was still searching for clues. He managed to prove that the officer was not involved and even found evidence that the original rushed investigation had missed.

Corniel even managed to track down witnesses that had not been given the time of day during the first investigation. This included a security guard from Holmes’ sister’s apartment building who confirmed that Holmes had left separately. He also got in touch with a newspaper delivery driver, Charlotte Kamaka, who spoke about how she had seen a young girl passed out unconscious with a man in a blue car during her daily route at around 2:20 AM.

Even though people are still working on the case, and evidence continues to build up, the chances of it ever being solved remain bleak. As time passes, witnesses die and facts are forgotten.

While this is true for the most part, there are still people like Au’s family and Bert Corniel, who pursue the truth. Whether they find it or not, Lisa Au’s case will always remain Hawaii’s greatest mystery, and one that is surrounded by conspiracy theories.

Originally published on

Corruption and Crime

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